Boof, part deux

The phrase "do as I say, don't do as I did" features more than once in Lehmann's new book AFP

In addition to the story it tells, every book has another story: that of its making. The tale of Coach, Darren Lehmann's insight into his time running the Australian team, begins with an earlier autobiographical tome entitled Worth The Wait. Released in November 2004, it chronicled Lehmann's playing career up to the point where he finally and belatedly demonstrated all his talents on a fitting stage, that year's Test tour of Sri Lanka.

That tome ended on a hopeful note, suggesting that Lehmann might see a rich final chapter as an Australian cricketer. Its final words were: "I finally felt I belonged in the Australian cricket team; I had shown that I was capable of making a significant contribution to a winning side and no longer felt on the periphery. Also, I felt that the emotional roller-coaster I had been on might finally be slowing and I started to feel some closure about recent events. I looked forward to the future."

As the following summer started, Lehmann enjoyed a blaze of publicity. He was Wisden Australia's cricketer of the year, he was promoting a book, and he seemed firmly ensconced in the national team. But the seeds of a very different book were to be sown that season. Even as he travelled around the country, selling himself as the rough diamond all grown up, Lehmann's Australia career was coming to a swift close. The final Test of 2004, against Pakistan at the MCG, was to be his last. Hopes of showcasing his rich English experience with Yorkshire on the 2005 Ashes tour were limited to observations from the commentary box.

Lehmann's obvious regrets about the way his Australia career ended provide a pair of the more notable passages in a book styled, in collaboration with the unfailingly professional craftsman Brian Murgatroyd, after the half-instructional, half-anecdotal fashion of Sir Alex Ferguson. He notes that the night before his final innings, which ended when he turned Shoaib Akhtar to short leg, he was out on the town until "far too late" as the result of a "far too relaxed attitude", and found his Test days ended soon afterwards.

"A relatively experienced collective unit [in Lehmann's first two years as coach] was ideally placed to respond well to his combination of jocular, simple advice and the occasional clip around the ears"

A few pages later, Lehmann relates how his mind had swung within the space of a few weeks from relaxation to panic, as his ODI career reached a similar point of no return. In his penultimate match, he tried to reverse-sweep Shahid Afridi first ball and was dismissed, leading his friend and captain Ricky Ponting to ask, "What on earth were you thinking?"

Lehmann's lack of an answer then contrasts with his explanation, in hindsight, of a feeling many have felt whether in sport or elsewhere: "There was no logic at all to my decision to play that shot other than the fact that I felt under pressure to deliver something special to maintain my spot. Rather than thinking clearly, I succumbed to pressure and allowed my mind to become clouded. I played one more match and then never played for Australia again."

Worth the Wait was never updated to feature the tribulations of that final international summer, nor those that followed in state cricket afterwards. It was a case of striking while the iron was hot, rather than waiting until the metal had cooled to get a more rounded picture of the man and his times. When Lehmann helped to helm Australia's return of the Ashes in 2013-14, the publishers of the original reprinted Worth the Wait with the subtitle "My playing career". By all accounts, Lehmann was not best pleased about this, and preferred to reframe his story in the coach's context.

What we have, then, is a run through the various elements of his own philosophies and experiences as coach, served up with a substantial dose of self-deprecation and hindsight about his time playing the game. Significantly, he offers a more conciliatory view of Australia's former coach Bob Simpson than he held as a young man; having walked away from his first week or two with the Australian squad in 1990, he admits to thinking the coach was a "f***wit", but now better understands exactly why he was harshly judged, as an outrageous talent happy to coast off those skills.

If this all sounds like a case of "do as I say, don't do as I did", then the proof is in the use of that very phrase more than once; on pages 82 and 119, for those keeping score. He reserves particular praise for David Warner's ability to avoid a similar fate by smartening up his behaviour, and also asserts that the key to any sustained success in sporting sides is to "convince the players that success is just the start of something".

But in chronicling how he was able to make a positive difference to the Australian side in the first two years after his arrival as coach, Lehmann also outlines the circumstances that made this possible. A relatively experienced collective unit in England was ideally placed to respond well to his combination of jocular, simple advice and the occasional clip around the ears; the likes of Shane Watson Mitchell Johnson and Brad Haddin remembered this as the senior-player-driven system of their youth, not the discipline-by-committee that entangled them during the "Homeworkgate" saga.

Tellingly, he speaks of wanting to develop a side that regulates itself, through the observance of senior players and their ability to have trusting conversations with the coach and the captain. That, as much as any technical or tactical advice, is at the core of why Lehmann has been successful, and why this summer's changeover of players and push for a more youthful direction has been challenging. Lehmann mentions Haddin, Watson, Johnson, George Bailey, Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle as key men in this sort of structure: all are either gone from the scene now or close to leaving.

And there, ultimately, lies the rub with Coach. It does offer some new insights, and some useful reflections. But as Lehmann did in putting together Worth The Wait while his playing career was still unfolding and ultimately unravelling, he has left us with a less than complete picture. The irony here is that just as the season after Lehmann's first book turned out to be his most challenging as a player, the pattern has been more or less repeated this time around, thanks to Sri Lanka and South Africa.

Of course with a contract inked in to 2019, Lehmann need not fear for his future as he did in 2004-05. But it would be gratifying for all concerned if the next book - if there is one - can be composed at a time when Lehmann is in position to reflect fully and frankly on his life in the round. Only then may readers be fully privy to the sort of robust honesty that many of Lehmann's players have admired him for.

By Darren Lehmann
Random House Australia
287 pages